Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

billy mckinney smokiesProspects Progress, the annual winter prospect scrutiny series, continues with the second player on the Bleacher Nation Top 40, outfielder Billy McKinney.

If someone ever wrote a book about the prospecthood of McKinney, the title should should be “Yes, but”. It is almost impossible to talk about Mckinney without running into that sentiment. He is a good hitter, but lacks power. He can get on base at a regular pace, but he doesn’t have the speed to be a threat once he gets there. He is a good defender in the corners, but his bat does not profile as well there. The bat would look good in center, but his glove is suspect there. In other words, he is almost a prototypical corner outfielder, but not quite a prototypical center fielder.

All of that masks the more important fact that he is a good baseball player who has a good shot of having a productive major league career.

The single most important number to keep in mind with McKinney his birthday: August 23, 1994. That means he began the 2015 season at the age of 20, and it was in his age 20 season that he hit .285/.346/.420 with an 8.9% walk rate and a 15.3% strikeout rate for Double A Tennessee. Twenty is decidedly on the young side for Double A, and that is a rock solid set of stats for a prospect of any age. It is a set of stats that will help rank him towards the back end of some league wide Top 100 lists this winter.

Given his age, I strongly suspect we will see some additional power show up over the next year or two. He’ll never compare with the young sluggers of the Cubs’ system, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hoist 15+ bombs a year. He might even break 20 a time or two in his prime. So long as he can keep getting on base at a regular pace, that should be enough power for him to take a starting or a platoon job in an outfield corner for a lot of teams.

For the most part, though, his all fields approach is going to produce more base hits than titanic blasts. I suspect he may be fated to become one of those players that the new stats breed of fans love while the old stats breed view him as little more than a bench guy who should not be a regular starter.

Assuming, that is, he becomes a corner outfielder and can’t stick in center where his bat looks much better. In the Cubs’ system he has played alongside¬†very good center fielders at every level, so the fact that he is getting the majority of his starts on the corners is neither surprising nor necessarily telling. But it is indicative. He spent a lot of time with Tennessee in right field, and given the value the Cubs place on defense up the middle it is probably as a right fielder that he has his best shot of taking the field daily in Wrigley.

Steamer projects McKinney, assuming he were to make it to the majors, to post a 2016 line of .259/.316/.372 while playing roughly average defense. That’s not bad for a guy who would be in his rookie season at the age of 21. A much more likely scenario would have him opening the year in either Tennessee (where he has just 77 games under his belt) or Iowa. Given that his season ended a little early with a fractured knee, I tend to think the Cubs will play it safe and let him begin 2016 in Tennessee with an eye towards an early promotion. As he continues to adjust to pitching in the high minors, we are likely to see that already good walk rate go up, the already good strikeout rate go down, and his already good overall line generally improve. There is a good chance his prospect stock will be higher in June than it is now, and possibly higher again in a year.

Over the course of the winter, if the Cubs trade one corner outfielder, do not acquire a replacement, and do not trade McKinney, then I think fans should be fairly comfortable with the thought of McKinney as the left or right fielder of the future. He would also be a nice fit as a quality left handed bat off the bench and fourth outfielder, particularly on a team that may have some defensive questions in their starting outfield. Until he does establish himself in Wrigley, though, he will remain perpetually near the top of the list of Cubs’ trade candidates.

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